As some of you may know, I have a mantra that I say at the till every time I am in a bookstore (weekly, at the very least): “At least it’s not shoes, at least it’s not shoes, at least it’s not shoes.”
I love my mantra, but I do acknowledge that it is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory to “save” on shoes only to spend on books. In the very same moment, I proclaim and undermine my virtue by pretending that my spending is anything but indulgent. Shoes or books, whatever your addiction, if you have to have a mantra when you spend, your purchase is probably less a necessity than an indulgence. My claim to virtue rests entirely on my perception that shoes are a frivolous indulgence while books are a sound investment. I acknowledge that I could probably well stand to spend a bit more time and money on clothes (including shoes) and a lot less on books, but there you go. I can easily resist one, and struggle mightily to resist the other.
I am not a big fan of diets or of deprivation; my attempts to stop buying books have not gone well. But I have found Eliza’s Cross’s money diet challenge to be an effective and wholesome mantra: “no unnecessary spending.” As part of her January Money Diet, in its fifth year this year, participants pledge to save money and to try to go for a month without spending cash, taking a 31-day break from all but the most essential spending. I did not sign up, but I am observing with interest from a distance.
One of the places in which I am most guilty of unnecessary spending is the drug store at the end of my street. I’ve been in there a lot this month, finally taking myself and each of the three boys in turn for our flu shots (hooray!), and I’m always running in for milk or bread. We also get loyalty points when we spend, which is terrible temptation to spend more, more, more. Well, not this month. In the drug store, when I was tempted to replace the tube of lip gloss that ran out, the one shade out of dozens that I own, I stopped myself short by saying, “No unnecessary spending.” When I found myself itching to try a new body lotion, in spite of the many half-finished tubs and bottles at home, I said, “No unnecessary spending.” When I reached for a new shade of nail polish, I thought of all I had, and said, “No unnecessary spending.” It never felt like deprivation. It felt calming and empowering. It made me grateful for what I already have and it made me come home and unearth it. It was wonderful.
I have not been on a money diet for January. I have taken a romantic holiday alone with my husband, I have gone out for decadent meals with him, and for fun meals with friends. We consumed too many calories, we spent too much on food and wine. But none of that spending felt wrong or indulgent. I am a better parent, wife and friend for those luxuries, and that, I think, is what good spending should achieve: a sense of well-being, a sense of being ahead of where you were before you spent the money rather than guilt for feeling behind or in debt.
The money diet mantra has also given me a sense of well-being. It reminds me of my life of plenty, and makes me grateful for my existing small luxuries.